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16 April 2009 Edition

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International: Basque country

PSE LEADER: Patxi López

PSE LEADER: Patxi López

Spanish chauvinist alliance ousts nationalists from Basque parliament


THE banning of left-wing Basque nationalist parties, and an alliance between rival Spanish chauvinist parties, has meant that for the first time since limited autonomy was granted to the south-west Basque region (Bascongadas) under Spanish rule in 1979, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has lost control of the regional Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community.
The Bascongadas regional elections (comprising the Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba regions) held on 1 March  effectively disenfranchised 15-20 per cent of citizens through the Spanish authorities’ banning of political parties they claimed were linked to armed Basque nationalist organisation ETA or Batasuna, the pro-independence political party that was outlawed in 2003.
While the PNV won the highest number of votes, it failed to win an outright majority of seats in the 75-seat parliament and the two main Spanish parties – PSE, the local section of the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, and the right-wing Partido Popular (PP), who between them took 38 seats, struck a deal on 1 April to form a coalition government on the basis of opposition to self determination for the Basque Country.
In the months leading up to the poll, the Spanish judiciary stepped up its repression of the pro-independence movement, with the Supreme Court banning a further two parties – Democrazia 3 Miloi (Democracy 3 Million) and Askatasuna (Freedom) – from standing candidates. As a result of the political bannings, the left-nationalists, who generally poll 15-20 per cent or up to 200,000 votes, were entirely excluded and will not have a single representative in the new parliament.
Despite this the left-nationalists organised a defiant act of mass civil disobedience, printing and distributing illegal ballots which more than 100,000 people voted with. Overall, a majority of voters, about 640,000, supported pro-self determination parties, with 482,000 voting for the PSE or PP.
The pro-Spanish unionist parties, bitter rivals in Madrid, have united in a pact that will see PSE leader Patxi López be the new lehendakari (president) of the regional government, with the PP supporting him in exchange for getting the position of president of the Basque Parliament.
The new government will be formed in May, with the two parties already indicating they intend to unleash an intensified wave of repression against the pro-independence movement by bolstering the security forces, and to attack Basque language and cultural rights.

In an especially vindictive move, López has said he plans to cut government travel aid to the families of hundreds of Basque political prisoners to visit their family members in the far-off jails throughout Spain and France which they are being held in.
On March 23, leading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who is on a personal crusade against Basque aspirations towards self-determination, filed ‘terrorism’ charges against 44 pro-independence activists, allegedly members of banned nationalist parties including Batasuna, the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (PCTV) and Basque Nationalist Action (ANV). Among those charged is the mayor of Mondragon, Maria Inocencia Galparsoro.
In a 16 December report based on a mission to the Spanish state in May last year, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights Martin Scheinin said he was “troubled” that Spain’s Law of Political Parties, which provides the legislative basis to ban political organisations, defined ‘terrorism’ so vaguely that it “might be interpreted to include any political party which through peaceful political means seeks similar political objectives” as those pursued by armed organisations.
Clearly it is not the tactics but the political goals of the pro-independence political parties that the Spanish state is intent on crushing.
Similarly, the Special Rapporteur stated that the law against “glorifying terrorism” “should include the requirements of an intent to incite the commission of a terrorist offence, as well as the existence of an actual risk that such an offence will be committed as a consequence”. The Spanish authorities are currently using this law to try to extradite former ETA prisoner Iñaki de Juana Chaos, who served 21 years in Spanish jails, from Belfast where he moved after his release in August last year.
The Spanish court is basing its effort to extradite de Juana Chaos on the flimsiest grounds of a single media report saying somebody at a rally in Donostia in August, which Juana Chaos was not present at, saying “Kick the ball forward”, without any evidence that the comment was de Juana Chaos’s or that it somehow constitutes a terrorist offence.
A Belfast judge last month accepted the advice of the Spanish authorities that the phrase “Kick the ball forward” constitutes “praising terrorism” and that this offence has a legal equivalent under the British Terrorism Act 2006. De Juana Chaos is appealing the ruling in May.
The UN Special Rapportuer report also criticised the interpretation of kale borroka, or street fighting between young people and the security forces, as “urban terrorism”, subjecting young people to the anti-terror legislation including incommunicado detention.
The report slammed the fact that all political cases are judged in the Audiencia National, (National Bench, descended from fascist dictator General Franco’s Public Order Tribunal) whose judgements can only be reviewed in a limited way in the Supreme Court.

The UN also reported the abuse of human rights, in particular the rights of ‘terror suspect’ detainees, who may be held incommunicado for up to 13 days without charge. Not only does the UN report note the frequent allegations of torture by detainees who have been held incommunicado, it also notes the failure of the Spanish authorities to effectively investigate these claims.
The Basque human rights NGO Torturaren Aurkako Taldea (Group Against Torture – TAT) listed testimonies of serious torture from 62 people, most of whom had been held incommunicado,  in 2008, including beatings, sexual assault, asphyxiation with plastic bags, food and sleep deprivation, stress positions, and threats to rape or kill victims or their partners or family members, among other abuses. Being forced to sing the Spanish national anthem or fascist anthems was another common abuse listed by detainees.
Today there are 765 Basque political prisoners, the highest number since the Franco dictatorship, and they have been ‘dispersed’ or removed as far from home as possible, spread out in more than 80 prisons in Spain and France, on average about 600km from the Basque Country. Their return to the Basque Country has long been a central demand of the Basque people.

Against this background of already severe repression, the Spanish chauvinists will now control the central institution that Basque nationalists have historically used to exercise a degree of autonomy, the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community.
For the section of Basque population who supported the PSE, the party’s opportunist alliance with the right-wing, neo-Francoist PP brings into sharp relief the fact that the question of self-determination remains the primary defining issue in politics in the Basque Country.
The conservative nationalist PNV must also realise that the Spanish state’s strategy of fostering division and attempting to isolate the radical nationalists not only hurts the left but the PNV as well – it has lost its grip on the limited form of power it had and demonstrated its dependence on support from the left-nationalists. The left-nationalists have argued that the PNV in power failed to oppose the persecution of the left effectively, essentially collaborating with Madrid’s anti-democratic policies out of narrow self-interest, which has now backfired badly.
A new nationalist united front with a strategy of extra-parliamentary mass mobilisation will be vital to defend the political, cultural and economic rights of Basque people against the chauvinist coalition’s looming offensive.
In response to the election result, left-nationalists have held a series of meetings to discuss a new way forward. Basque nationalist trade unions are calling for a general strike on May 21, days after the new government is inaugurated.
International support for building a meaningful, inclusive peace process – in which the Spanish and French states are pressured to acknowledge the democratic and national rights of the Basque people – will be more important than ever in the coming period.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1